Friday, July 25, 2014

Be Joyful Sowers ... but don't forget the Darnel

Feast of St Anne

It’s just been a week since we last heard the Parable of the Wheat and the Darnel, and here we go again. As you may have heard preached over last weekend masses, the parable highlights the paradox of the Kingdom. It exposes the problem of evil intermingled with good. The truth that the darnel and wheat will always be found together is inescapable logic, but it is still difficult for many of us to accept especially when it comes to the Church. In his book, The Gulag Archipelago, the Russian author, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, says, "If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being." And so, no matter how society tries to legislate or separate out the criminals from the rest of society, the seeds of sin find a place to grow.

It always seem, in spite of our best efforts, that evil would exist alongside the good, the forces of death will always accompany those of life, the counterfeit will always be mixed and confused with the genuine. We are constantly witnessing the unfolding of this cosmic drama; an interplay of shadow and light and yet the story ends on a high note. It is the good, the life-giving, the true, and the righteous that will be vindicated at the end. Christ will triumph over every kind of evil. No matter how messy this world looks right now things will get straightened out, and we shall shine like the sun in the kingdom of our “Father”.

The parable thus offers a double consolation to its hearers. First, it reminds us that the world we live in will always be messy and less than perfect and we don’t have to be obsessive about cleaning up every little mess. Second, the presence of evil will not be a perpetual state of affairs. The separation of evildoers and the righteous will take place at the close of the age and not before. Judgement thus seems to be delayed, but it is certain. But this begs the question, Why the delay? The first reason for the delay in judgment is lest the good be uprooted with the bad. It is never a question of letting the guilty go free but rather of not condemning or hurting the innocent. Notice that the farmer in this parable does not spare the darnel for the sake of the darnel, but rather spares the darnel for the sake of the wheat. The second reason points to the absolute sovereignty of God’s authority. God has his own way of judging the wicked and vindicating the righteous, and he will not be pressured into adopting some other method or timetable for either. Those who wish to mete out summary justice may end up usurping the power of God to judge and to put things right.

Thus, the virtue advocated by this parable is patience. Patience isn’t about tolerating evil and sin – one can never do so. Rather, patience recognises that all the suffering and mess we are presently witnessing or experiencing is not the final chapter of the story. As St Paul reminds us in Chapter 8 of his letter to the Romans, that the whole creation is caught in the grip of birth-pangs, the labour pains of a new creation. Though the darkness seems endless and overwhelming, we are convinced that God’s new world is on the horizon and approaching. Peace and liberation are coming and patience calls us to hope in God’s deliverance. Thus, patience is born out of a confidence in God. Neither must we mistake patience for apathy. Patience is not inaction or indifference. It is not collusion with evil. It is a cautious attitude that informs what we do and that is willing to wait, taking the long view rather than rushing to the quick-fix, and believing that God will have the final definitive say and not evil.

Today, as we celebrate the Patronal Feast of this Parish, the Parable of the Wheat and the Darnel serves as a fitting conclusion to the theme of the “Joy of the Gospel.” It is a necessary reminder that the mission of the Church is not to destroy but to sow. Thus, our Holy Father calls Christians to be missionaries of joy “fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit.” The problem is that instead of being bold witnesses of the Joy of the Gospel we have gotten good at complaining, whining, arguing, demanding, and destroying. Our sowing thus has suffered. Today is the day we must acknowledge and confess our failings.

In focusing on our mission to sow, however, we should also not be naïve to dismiss and ignore the power and work of Satan. It was Venerable Pope Paul VI who rightly reminded us that we should not feel smugly secure that the power of Satan lies outside the visible Church. Rather, he prophetically saw that “from some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God”, the Church. Satan has sown the seeds of discord, of disbelief, of doubt, of dissension, of disunity within the Church, and we must be constantly on guard against this, less we be taken in by his lies. Nevertheless, the Joy of the gospel provides us with a grounded hope that the Enemy would not be able to undo the work of the Sower. The enemy is a cowardly loser who is no match for the Sower. And so, in spite of the often bleak assessment of the state of affairs of the Church, its flock and its leadership, we must place greater trust in the Sower, that He will not abandon his Bride the Church, rather than resign ourselves in despair as we sink into to the murky chaos of our troubles.

As I had mentioned, the parable and the message of the gospel are never meant to lull us into hapless apathy, a pious quetism that ignores our responsibility in the world. The gospel certainly does not intend for us to just warm the benches while the story fatefully plays to its pre-ordained conclusion. There is a crucial role that we must play. As Christians we are called to challenge the values and lifestyles of those around us and point to a better way. We must have “the courage to proclaim the newness of the Gospel with boldness in every time and place, even when it meets with opposition.” The message of the gospel must rise above the twin ideologies of relativism and political tolerance. We are called to be a dissenting voice in society but we are not set up as its judges. “In our dealings with the world,” our Pope reminds us, “we are told to give reasons for our hope, but not as an enemy who critiques and condemns.” We must cease being invisible Catholics. Our faith must be visible and tangible. We must allow its alluring Beauty to once again draw all peoples to Christ and to His Bride.

In choosing to be ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world,’ we must also avoid both isolation from the world and capitulation to its cause. Isolating oneself is akin to salt losing its taste and the light of our lamps being hidden under a basket. In isolating ourselves, we passively allow the darnel to take over the field till there’s nothing left of the wheat when harvest time comes.  On the other hand, capitulation should never be the option. Capitulation confuses the difference between the wheat and the darnel, between the good and the bad, and between the Truth and a lie. In accepting all opinions, all lifestyles, it ultimately excludes what is True, what is Good, and what is Beautiful. Of course, it goes without saying that it is much easier to swim with the current rather than to swim against it. It is always the popular thing to tell the world what it wants to hear. The challenge is to tell the world what it needs to hear. The Joy of the Gospel is thus not a gospel that makes us narcissistically feel good about ourselves. True joy can never be a cover up. Rather, it is the joy of encountering the One who died for us on the Cross, so that the good may triumph and the bad, ultimately vanquished.

Thus the joy of the gospel calls for a Church which has to open its doors to sinners who are in need of forgiveness; to the sick who are in need of a remedy. But again, we must be clear about what we are speaking of here - we should not mistake the darnel for the wheat. One must always seek to reconcile a sinner to God, but one ought to never reconcile sin to God, since the two stand in direct opposition to each other. The very act of reconciling a sinner to God is purging him or her of that sin which separates us from each other in the marriage with God we were created for. Condemning sin is an act of love, not of judgment. The open Church does not mean we have to give sinful lifestyles a stamp of approval because true joy is never the result of a free license to sin but that of freedom from sin. The sacramental economy of the Church is offered to those who are able to acknowledge their illness, their sins. It is certainly wasted on those who feel no need for a remedy. Joy is never the perpetuation of a lie but the beautiful exposition of the splendour of the Truth. The Church is indeed a field hospital, as our Holy Father beautifully reminds us, for the sick who come in search for healing, it is certainly not a place for those who claim they are hale and hearty.

Christianity gave to the world something from which it has never recovered, and that is a belief in a better world to come, a perfect world from which all evil and wrongdoing have been banished. According to Christianity, history has a goal. There is an end-point towards which we are moving – we call it the Kingdom of God, we call it Heaven. One day this old world order with all its pain and suffering will come to an end and a new kingdom of peace established. Now, what is crucial is that in the Scriptures, as in today’s gospel parable, this Kingdom of God is not something that we as human beings can bring about. We can remove the obstacles. We can and we should challenge and resist evil wherever it may be found, especially within us. But we are under no illusion that we can ever create the kingdom of God on earth – we must wait for God. No confession can make us automatically into living saints who are totally freed of the struggle of sin and temptation. No social, political or economic answer can ensure that we no longer have to face war, poverty, conflict, and suffering. For this reason, we Christians do not suffer from optimistic idealism, neither are we weighed down by the harsh and often painful facts of reality. On the contrary, we are realistic about what could be achieved in transforming the world and are thus spared the disillusionment that comes from failing. The world and universe of perfection will come, that we are certain! But for now, as Jesus wisely counsels, “let them both grow till the harvest,” as we wait for the Lord of the Harvest to come and conclude the story.

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